When I finished high school, I was sick and tired of learning stuff. I, in my youthful “innocence”, swore to take a break from learning for a while. Now you see, learning is interesting. Because it actually isn’t necessarily connected to “teaching.” You can learn without being taught. You can also be taught without learning anything.
I’ve had periods of my life where I have learned NOTHING. Where I have been too arrogant to be open to what life has to teach me. Because I’ve discovered this one thing through my time on the planet, that LIFE offers us opportunity for growth, for learning, every day.
Some years ago, my best “teachers” were my own mistakes. I had to learn “the hard way.” Too arrogant, too insecure, too impatient to learn any other way. Before this arrogance, insecurity and impatience came into my life however, I learned my most important lessons in life from animals.
As a young child I would spend most of my spare time with our dogs, or with my neighbor’s horses in the field. I was calm, patient and humble. And I learned. I absorbed. I watched, imitated, and developed an understanding of nature.
In my teens I tried so hard to fit in (but I’ve always been a square peg, impossible to fit into a round hole), that I somehow forgot what I had learned, or at least distanced myself from it. I became more “humanized”, which many would probably say “good for you,” but I will always regret that in a way. I forgot, briefly, how wonderfully simple life is from an animals point of view. Humans tend to complicate things…
I always spent most of my time with animals, but how they taught me, how I learned from them, changed. Instead of the interactions like I had in my childhood, my teens offered different kinds of lessons… After being kicked badly by a horse, injured a couple of dozen times, bitten on the face and having my arm chewed up by my own dog, I realized I had to change. Something had to happen. It wasn’t THEM, it was something wrong with, it was ME.
Ouch. Pride took a bashing there. A much needed one, if you ask me! Nothing worse than dealing with pride. When it comes to being open to receive, open to learn.
Why did my horse kick me? Because I didn’t listen to what he had to say to me. I acted like too much of a predator for him.
Why did my dog bite me? To him, I wasn’t a leader showing balance. He demanded so much more than what I gave him at the time, he needed a strong, assertive, yet sensitive and observant leader, and at the time I was too self-absorbed and unbalanced. I “fixed” him when I “fixed” myself.
I’ve had to do many “hard resets” in life and it’s equally important each time. To continue growing, and learning, this is what I have learned to do:
- Stay humble.
- Stay open
- Stay balanced
- Listen to advice. Listen in general. My insecurity around people sometimes makes me talk and talk and talk, and not really listen.
- Face my fears. NOTHING has taught me more
I may still learn from my “mistakes” most of the time. I prefer however, to see them as “tries.” You see, I’m gradually realizing that the more I learn, the less I know. And that making a mistake doesn’t make it the end. It simply means, “try again.”
I’ll post many blogs about individual lessons I’ve been taught by animals. Each and every one of them has something new to teach me, ranging from patience, to confidence, to silence, to balance.
Today I had the good fortune of meeting a new “teacher”, a shelter dog named Elvira. She is a very high-energy dog, with a lot of pent up energy. She reminded me how important it is to maintain focus, balance and remain calm at all times. She also reminded me that when things don’t work one way, they can still work another. (Keep trying!) She is such a quick thinker that she required that I speed up my own reactions as well! I didn’t actually get any time to think, which brought me back to acting purely on instincts. Awesome experience today!
I enjoyed being with her, and as always I marvel at how quickly an unbalanced dog regains balance with a balanced leader. When I’m around dogs, I can always tell by looking at them, what mental state I am in. Sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m unbalanced (tired, fearful, doubtful, angry, frustrated), but by their reactions to me it becomes obvious. Elvira put me to the test today, and I think we both passed – eventually!
Many people talk so much about what we can teach dogs (which is mostly teaching them, or showing them, how to live in a human world), and they don’t talk so much about what our dogs can teach us. I happen to believe, that in the end, the dogs have more to teach us, than us them.
“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”
― John Grogan